I know that this could really come back to bite me in the ass, but I want to get this on record: I really don’t think this is a fluke. I’m not saying that Donald Young is the next No. 1, but he’s officially back into the Top 50 now, and I think he’s going to stay there.
You see, I was here back in 2011 when he made his run to the semis then. That felt different. Back then, he looked completely in awe of his good results. He didn’t have an explanation. He was sweet and genuine in pressers, but he was also just a kid. His mom sat in the back of every press conference, and he looked towards her during most big-time questions. He was happy with his success, but he didn’t trust it.
Now? He trusts it.
When asked in press whether he was surprised by this result, he didn’t hesitate to say that he was not. He felt like he has been playing well all year, it just hadn’t all clicked together. He thought Atlanta would be his week, and was very disappointed that was a “bust.”
It turns out, he was just one week off.
This week he has found himself in trouble–he was dominated in the first set by Anderson, almost lost the plot against Istomin, and was down in each set against Benneteau. But he stayed patient and positive.
“I’m just believing a little more,” he said. “I’m staying in the matches, and not tapping out when something goes against me, or I get down. I keep fighting. I’m competing, and some of the matches are turning over my way.”
Young’s body language during his matches has been incredibly positive. He shows signs of frustration from time to time, but he is able to pick himself back up pretty quickly. There have been no whiny meltdowns, no self-pity parties.
“It’s still a work in progress,” he said when I asked him about his improved demeanor on the court. “I still slip back every now and then, but more so than not, I’m being a lot more positive. I think it’s just the only way. I’ve tried being negative, it doesn’t work.”
“The top players in the world, when you look at them, that’s what they do; they just stay fighting, focused the whole time. Even if they lose, you know they’re not going away; they’re going stay there and compete and that’s what I want to start doing.”
While Young is still working primarily with his parents, he currently has a great relationship with the USTA, and said that they have been there to support him any time he needs them. He especially works closely with Craig Boynton, who has been in his box a lot this week and walked by and gave him a fist-pump when he was talking with the press in the mixed zone after his Benneteau victory.
It’s particularly great to see the 25-year-old practicing and hanging out with so many of the other American guys. For so many years he seemed to be a bit of a loner. The Andy Roddick generation was so much older than him, and he was kind of off on an island all by himself.
Now, he’s just one of the guys. The group that has spent the year ranked in the top half of the Top 100–Sam Querrey, Steve Johnson, Jack Sock, and Bradley Klahn–seem to really be pushing each other.
“You see one guy do well, you want to do well,” he said. “You don’t want to be left behind.”
Overall, Young finally seems sick of losing, and ready to do something about it. “Losing’s not good,” he said, “I didn’t want to do that anymore.”
When I asked him what advice he would give to other tennis prodigies, I found his answer to be very revealing.
“Keep working, keep listening,” he said. “Don’t just rely on skill and talent at the time, because the other guys behind you they’re working and getting better, because you’re the guy to chase. So keep working, keep listening, and never think you know it all.”
Perhaps that’s the biggest difference in Young now, and the real reason why I think that he’s finally found his game–he listens now, and he’s not afraid to put in the hard yards.
He’s no longer an arrogant teenage prodigy who is expecting to inherit tennis greatness; he’s now a humbled veteran who is ready to earn it.